Integrating Technology Training into Graduate Education

We live in a culture in which using the Internet to communicate and disseminate information is no longer optional but expected. The world of the university is no exception. Increasingly, students expect faculty to have a course Web site and electronic mailing list for communicating class information and facilitating discussions of class content. Moreover, job postings from a variety of fields clearly demonstrate that employers are seeking employees with skills in Web development and electronic communication.

The Council of Graduate Schools has also asserted a need to go beyond the traditional emphasis on independent research in graduate training. The council urges departments to "introduce graduate students to the full range of faculty life," as well as other career paths, and to include training in the use of technology (see Doctoral Education: Preparing for the Future, 1997). Given the importance of such skills, how are universities preparing graduate students to be Internet-savvy in both their university duties and their careers after graduation?

Some universities are addressing these needs. Searching a database of innovative programs in doctoral education collected by the Reenvisioning the Ph.D. program yielded several programs offering courses and seminars in the use of technology. One example, at the University of Texas, Austin, is part of the Preparing Future Faculty program and offers its graduate students a course called " Academic and Professional Uses of Technology."

At Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the graduate school is meeting this need through a series of workshops offered each summer, free of charge, to all graduate students. These workshops are designed to teach the students how to incorporate Internet technology into their teaching and professional development, including how to design and publish Web pages. A unique feature of the Washington University program is that graduate students are doing the teaching. In this environment, graduate students come to learn from their peers and share their own experiences in teaching and career development.

What was the impetus for such a program? According to Elaine Berland, project director and associate dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the program was designed in response to increasing awareness of changes in the everyday use of technology in the workforce, especially with regard to the Internet. Berland and Robert Thach, dean of the graduate school, collaborated with the College of Arts and Sciences computing center and the Teaching Center, and they gathered a few tech-savvy graduate students to help get the program started.

One initiative resulting from this collaboration is the Lee and Ann Liberman Fellowship program. Each year, a group of graduate students from a range of disciplines in arts and sciences is chosen to receive yearlong fellowships. During that time, they facilitate the development and teaching of Web workshops as well as other ongoing technology projects at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Among graduate students, the workshops themselves have rapidly grown in popularity each year since they began in 1997. Increased demand among graduate students has led to an increase in the number of Liberman fellows and the number of workshops each summer. Workshop participants have come from almost all graduate programs offered at Washington University, from the natural sciences to the humanities. Students receive hands-on learning of a variety of skills in a series of five hourlong workshops, including:

  • The basics of how to compose and publish Web pages. Workshop teachers use Netscape Composer because of its wide (and free) availability and ease of use. The participants practice making a Web page for a course they are likely to teach.

  • Critical examination of existing course sites. Viewing and evaluating the effectiveness of other course Web sites familiarizes students with basic features of layout and development.

  • Managing a Web-enhanced course. Students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of integrating the Web into the classroom, making use of the Internet meaningful for their students, and copyright and security issues.

  • Establishing a professional identity on the Web. This includes how to effectively search for grants on line, publish a teaching portfolio, and create Web pages for one's own career development (e.g., posting CVs, résumés, and links to article reprints).

  • Following trends in distributed learning. Students learn to identify new ways to reach learning communities beyond the classroom, and they consider the issues surrounding use of the Web to create educational experiences and to distribute research and teaching materials.

(More information about the workshops is available online).

In program evaluations, graduate students report that the benefits of the workshop exceed their expectations. As one student said, "I had expected to learn how to create a course page and a Web page, but I hadn't expected to learn so much about pedagogical concerns and the practical applications of technology." Students also seem to appreciate being taught by their peers. One participant said that "Using other grad students to teach this course was the best element of the course" because they had practical knowledge of using the technology in the same way that workshop participants would use it; this "made the course more relevant." Perhaps most importantly, the basic skills introduced in the workshop help students feel confident that they can continue to master such important skills, no matter what career path they choose. "I think I have gained a basic language and understanding that I did not have before and certainly that encourages me to keep on learning," said one student. "I've taken that first important step."

One key to the program's success, according to associate dean Berland, has been the continued, active collaboration of the graduate school, graduate students, and the computing and teaching centers on campus. For instance, these collaborations recently allowed for the opening of a new computing lab dedicated to graduate student use for projects involving multimedia or Internet technology (e.g., the development of a course site or the creation of an online lecture), so students may continue to apply their skills long after the workshop has ended.

The impact of the program on campus continues to grow. The campus teaching center now uses it to instruct faculty. Graduate students use the skills gained in the workshop to enhance undergraduate teaching by creating course materials and exercises for faculty or for their own courses. Recently, an additional workshop was created for more advanced Web development, including the use of Flash technology for designing online presentations of research. Indeed, in gearing up for the job market, many students have now gone on to create their own online lectures, including multimedia presentations of their thesis work (see examples here). Dean Berland has received feedback from several participants whose success in the job market has been strengthened by the skills they gained in the Web workshops.

In an increasingly technology-intensive world, the Web workshops have been an important part of helping Washington University graduate students meet the needs of their students, university, and their own developing careers. Building upon the skills and resources of several campus groups--including donors, administration, and graduate students--has created a successful (and still growing) integrative technology program that allows graduate students to play a key role in their education and future careers.

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